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Standouts and sleepers: Eight players to watch in Gonzaga’s pod at the NCAA Tournament

UPDATED: Tue., March 13, 2018, 8:40 p.m.

Two conference MVPs, one of the field’s top 3-point shooters and another who’s been as hot as anyone in the country over the last month will be coming through Boise this week for the first two rounds of the 2018 NCAA Tournament.

Gonzaga’s four-team pod in the West Regional is stocked with talent across the board – formidable forwards and vaunted sharpshooters probably above all else. Here are a look at five standout players and three sleepers who could make a big impact this week in the Treasure Valley.

Five standouts

Keita Bates-Diop, Forward, Ohio State: The Big Ten Player of the Year has been showered with All-American honors after a season that saw him score 19.4 points per game and collect 8.8 rebounds. At 6-foot-7 and 235 pounds, Bates-Diop is an efficient scorer in the painted area – he’s 48.4 percent from the field – and he’s more than capable of hurting rivals from deep with a 3-point clip of 36 percent. Additionally, he’s one of the nation’s most improved players after averaging just better than nine ppg last season and missing 23 games with a leg fracture.

Killian Tillie, Forward, Gonzaga: Tillie was the WCC Tournament’s hands-down Most Valuable Player after averaging 24 points in three games at the Orleans Arena and hitting 13 times from beyond the arc. The sheer number of 3s Tillie made was impressive – just not as impressive as how many tries it took him to make them. Try 14. Tillie missed just once in Las Vegas and dating back to the last game in which he didn’t make a 3-pointer (Feb. 1 vs. USD), he’s connected on 26 of 37.

Johnathan Williams, Forward, Gonzaga: The other piece of GU’s sturdy frontcourt is Williams, a long-armed 6-9 forward who managed to lead a balanced Bulldogs team in both scoring (13.5 ppg) and rebounding (8.3) this season. Williams might not give GU 20 points in a game all tournament – he’s only hit that benchmark twice since the Zags started WCC play – but he’s scored in double digits each of the last two games and has a double-double in 10 of the last 12.

Mike Daum, Forward, South Dakota State: South Dakota State’s relevance in the college basketball realm can largely be credited to the player known as the “Dauminator.” A two-time Summit Player of the Year who earned AP All-American Honorable Mention last season, Daum was the country’s sixth-leading scorer (23.8 ppg) and 14th-leading rebounder (10.4 rpg). He has 12 30-point games this season and scored 17 points in a first-round NCAA meeting with Gonzaga last season.

Francis Alonso, Guard, UNC Greensboro: Nobody in the pod has seen more 3-pointers fall this season than the UNC Greensboro sharpshooter. In fact, only two players in the NCAA Tournament field – Oklahoma’s Trae Young and Nevada’s Kendall Stephens – have connected more times than Alonso, who’s made 110 this season and shoots his 3 at a 40.4 percent clip. The junior from Malaga, Spain, averages 15.6 ppg and 3 apg for the Spartans.

Three sleepers

David Jenkins Jr., Guard, South Dakota State: Lest you think South Dakota State is a one-trick pony, Daum actually does get quite a bit of help from his teammates and a lot of it comes from Jenkins Jr., a freshman guard from Tacoma who averages 16.1 ppg and 3.3 rpg. Jenkins Jr. was quiet in SDSU’s Summit League Tournament opener, scoring just three points on 1-of-10 shooting. His next two games? Try 53 points on 20 of 34 from the field.

Zach Norvell Jr., Guard, Gonzaga: Norvell Jr. went from productive bench player to reliable starter in his first season with the Bulldogs. The redshirt freshman guard from Chicago played sparingly in the PK80, but got a starting nod against Creighton when Corey Kispert was injured and scored 64 points in three games against the Bluejays, Villanova and Washington. He’s missed only one start since.

James Dickey, Forward, UNC Greensboro: Opponents of UNC Greensboro don’t have to worry so much about Dickey on the offensive end of the floor, but he’s the top shot-blocker in this four-team pod with 2.15 rejections per game – good enough for 33rd nationally. The 6-10 sophomore from Raleigh, North Carolina, scores 8.9 ppg, averages 8.3 rebounds and was the SoCon’s Defensive Player of the Year.


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